Sunday 25 June 2017

Diverse six battle it out for fiction prize

Our reviewer on the books shortlisted for the Irish Independent Popular Fiction Book of the Year at next week's Irish Book Awards

Martina Devlin
Martina Devlin
Kate Kerrigan
Paul Howard, author of the Ross O'Carroll-Kelly series
Kate Beaufoy
Sinead Moriarty
Cecelia Ahern

Edel Coffey

Over the past decade, the Bord Gáis Energy Book Awards have become one of the most anticipated annual events in the Irish literary calendar. This year, the awards mark their 10th anniversary, and they have come a long way since they first started out, growing from a prize with just three categories to the 13 categories it now awards, ranging from cookery books to crime fiction.

This year, the Irish Independent is proud sponsor of one of the most prestigious categories in the awards, the hotly contested Popular Fiction Book of the Year.

The six writers who have made the Irish Independent Popular Fiction Book of the Year shortlist this year comprise a diverse list, from Martina Devlin's futuristic About Sisterland to the latest Ross O'Carroll-Kelly book, Seedless in Seattle, and the winners will be announced at a gala event in Dublin this Wednesday, November 25.

About Sisterland

by Martina Devlin

Published by the newly established literary imprint from Poolbeg, Martina Devlin's third novel marks a change from the author as it leaves behind the historical subject matter of her previous books and jumps to the 23rd century, a time when women rule the world.

This book sits comfortably alongside the likes of Margaret Atwood's speculative fiction, and explores a totalitarian state where women rule and men are second-class citizens. The society is run by the women as a communal effort, right down to who can and can't become a mother.

This is a Brave New World for the modern day that cleverly explores gender politics, political extremism and how we control women's bodies. A book for our times by a smart and chic writer.

The Dress

by Kate Kerrigan

Kate Kerrigan started life as Morag Prunty and had already published several books under her own name when she switched to the pseudonym Kate Kerrigan. The Dress is her seventh novel under that name and it is her most accomplished to date.

It tells the story of three generations of women whose lives are connected by one very special dress. Lily Fitzpatrick is a fashion blogger living in London and her love of vintage clothes leads her to uncover a story that takes us back to New York high society in the 1950s and a woman called Joy Fitzpatrick, who once ordered a very special dress to be made. The dress and Joy have both disappeared and Lily is determined to find out what happened to them.

Kerrigan jumps elegantly between the two timelines and the end result is a charming novel that shows how the clothes we wear tell us who we really are.

Seedless in Seattle

by Ross O'Carroll-Kelly

A reader's favourite, Ross creator Paul Howard is a national treasure at this stage. With Ross, he has created an abiding, iconic representation of Celtic Tiger Ireland and the post-crash world of the Irish middle class.

Sharply observant and laugh-out-loud funny, the character has far surpassed expectations of longevity and Seedless in Seattle is the 15th book in the series. In this instalment, Ross is faced with new fatherhood - again - in the form of his triplets. Having turned 33, significant because it is the age Jesus died and Ross sees himself as a kind of messiah, he finds himself musing on where his life is going.

The Marble Collector

by Cecelia Ahern

It's hard to believe that 11 years have passed since the then 21-year-old Cecelia Ahern published her debut novel, PS I Love You. The Marble Collector marks a diversion for Ahern, and her marketing department has finally caught up by ditching the glittery book covers for a more muted jacket that correctly suggests a more mature writer is at play.

The Marble Collector is still true to Ahern's signature style that brings a touch of magic, but it tells a very grown-up story of character Sabrina Boggs, who discovers the true identity of her father through his secret possessions. Ahern won in this category last year… might this year mark a double for the writer?

The Way We Were

by Sinéad Moriarty

Dublin writer Sinéad Moriarty has quietly carved out a career as one of Ireland's most successful popular fiction authors over the last decade. Her debut novel, The Baby Trail, perfectly tapped in to the zeitgeist of the time, charting the character's IVF treatment in a darkly funny story.

Fans of Marian Keyes find similarities in Moriarty's books - the blend of embarrassing Irish families and serious issues and in The Way We Were, Moriarty's 11th novel, she writes about an ordinary couple whose relationship is tested by an extraordinary event.

Moriarty said the book was inspired by John McCarthy and Brian Keenan's kidnapping in the Lebanon and what became of McCarthy's relationship with his girlfriend when he was freed. The book explores whether we can ever get back to the way we were after a life-changing experience.

Another Heartbeat in the House

by Kate Beaufoy

Kate Beaufoy may be considered a newcomer in this prize but she is a real contender with her second novel Another Heartbeat in the House. Beaufoy has more experience than you might expect as she has written over a dozen novels as Kate Thompson. Another Heartbeat in the House has proved popular with readers so far.

This historical novel switches back and forth between two female characters in two different eras. One is Eliza Drury, who meets the Vanity Fair author WM Thackeray on her way to start a job as a governess in Cork around the time of the famine, and the pair become lifelong friends. Jump forward 100 years to London and Edie Chadwick travels to Cork to become caretaker of a grand Victorian house.

There she finds an old chest filled with papers, which include Eliza's musings from a hundred years earlier. Edie works for a publishing company back in London and thinks the documents will make the perfect story. Readers so far seem to have agreed.

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